Welcome to Underway Shift Colors!
We are Dave and Kathy Titley. After we served in the U.S Navy for 32 years in locations from Washington D.C. to Monterey CA to Japan, we moved to central Pennsylvania where Dave taught as a Professor in the Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science and School of International Affairs at Penn State.
‘We’ served in the Navy because being a Navy spouse, especially a Navy spouse of a Senior Officer is very much a full-time job. There’s just no job description or paycheck that comes with the position.
The short version
We have loved Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Wyoming for decades. We wanted to buy a home there, but the real estate market said that’s not in the cards. Instead we bought an Airstream and can now visit Grand Teton – and anywhere else we can tow the trailer — for weeks or months at a time!
The allure of the Tetons…
As far back as the 1990’s, we would travel to Grand Teton National Park whenever we had the chance. Sometimes by ourselves, sometimes with friends, but whenever we wanted to get away, chances were we would head to the Tetons.
Over time, we learned where to look for the animal, the best places to view sunrise and sunset, and what trails led to our favorite hikes. No matter how many times we went out there, we were always looking for more. Gradually we developed (no pun intended) an interest in photography. Kathy gravitated towards taking pictures of animals while Dave started to specialize in landscapes. We both enjoyed the creative outlet and let’s face it — it’s hard to take a bad picture in Grand Teton!
By 2016 we had spent several 1-2 week vacations in the Tetons and Yellowstone, but we were looking for something different, something that would allow us the feeling of living in the Park rather than just passing through.
Through the magic of the internet, we found a small cabin for rent in the heart of Grand Teton, on Antelope Flats. The cabin is owned by Lance Craighead, son of Frank Craighead. Much later we discovered that Frank and his brother John were giants in the field of ecology and understanding the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). It was in fact Frank to developed the GYE term and concept, still the foundation for ecosystem management in the northern Rockies. Frank also was the first to radio-collar and track bears, which led to the understanding of how much space brown bear populations required to be healthy and thrive.
The cabin, along with 30 days from mid-May to mid-June, was perfect! We no longer felt that we had to maximize the use of every single minute, or that a bad-weather day would torpedo our entire schedule. We could read, I could work, Kathy could sew – all while having a spectacular view of the Teton framed by the front window! And for the first time, we started to feel as though we lived in the Park and were becoming part of its community.
But how does this lead to an Airstream?
We enjoyed our time in the Craighead cabin so much, we started to fantasize about living full-time in Jackson. The fantasy progressed to spending an afternoon with a real estate agent, looking at some of the modest houses in and just south of Jackson. We have lived in some pretty expensive places before (Washington D.C., Monterey CA), but the housing sticker-shock in Jackson was equal to anything we had experienced. Time to figure out ‘Plan B’.
A couple of weeks into our stay at the cabin, we decided to take a short trip up to Yellowstone. We did all the things you are supposed to see and do in Yellowstone (except Old Faithful – can’t deal with the crowds!). As we went through the park we talked to a number of people, mostly couples ranging from their 20’s to their 60’s, who were in the Park for the season. Most worked for one of the concessionaires, and several had done this for a number of years. The work was – well, work. But the value of living in the park for an entire season was hard to overstate. Hmmm…
By luck, we reserved the last available campsite in Canyon Campground. With station wagon loaded and sleeping bags packed, we headed up north for our first camping trip in nearly 30 years. After a full day in the park, we checked into the campground, and naturally, explored a bit. We didn’t know the difference between a Class “A” and a 5th Wheel, but they all looked like they would have a more comfortable night than what was in store for us in the back of the Subaru! And we saw a couple of shiny aluminum trailers, with an almost art-deco style to them. Industrial art on wheels. The seed had been planted…
The search begins
In August of that year we took our first field trip to ‘the Mothership’, a.k.a. the Airstream factory located in the soybean fields of western Ohio. We took the factory tour and saw how they were built, and stopped at a dealer on the way home.
There is huge RV show each year in Hershey PA, only about 100 miles from home. We set off with the intention to get a good look at all kinds of RV’s. By this point we were pretty sure our travel style would be to head out on multi-month trips or see if we could find a way to work or volunteer in a National Park for a season. We thought we would likely use the RV for four to six months in any 12 month span. We knew enough to know our plan was fuzzy(!), and first contact with reality may force significant changes, it was still very useful to have some idea of how we might be potentially using an RV.
We spent an exhausting, hot Sunday in Hershey. We found the Colonial Airstream models and checked them out thoroughly. We also spent hours looking at other brand’s travel trailers, 5th wheels and even Class “A”s, “B”s, and “C”s. But — we kept coming back to the Airstreams. We loved the light, the aluminum construction, and the art-deco feel. We weren’t trying to sleep four or 6 people (“drinks for 6, dinner for 4, sleeps 2” is our motto) and thought we could deal with the storage. The Vans (or Class ‘B’) were appealing in that you did not have to tow something behind you, but we were not sure if both of us would come home alive after being in that small a space after six months!
So it was to be an Airstream. But which model? How long? We thought our task in 2017 would be to figure all that out. Dave would reach the end of his contract with Penn State at the end of the 2018 academic year, and would be be all set to embark on our Grand Adventure a few months later. Penn State asked Dave to extend for an additional year through 2019. They had treated me well so I said ‘yes’. A little more time to decide — or stall! — on our decision.
We spent most of 2017 trying to get smarter about RV’ing in general and Airstreams in particular. Does this make sense from a financial perspective? Can we leave the house unoccupied for months at a time? What about mail? We enrolled in the ‘University of YouTube’, joined ‘Airstream Addicts‘ on Facebook and even took a course designed for newbie RV’ers.
One of the events we stumbled upon was called ‘Alumapalooza‘, held each year at the Airstream factory (a.k.a. the Mothership) every May. We learned we could attend even though we did not own any kind of Airstream, we signed up for the 2018 event. We were hoping to meet people who had been in situations similar to ours, find out what they liked and didn’t like, and ask them what would they have done if they could repeat the discovery and buying process?
Alumapalooza was fabulous! We met some wonderful, generous people who without even asking, invited us into their Airstream (their home) so we could look at the layout. They gave us their frank and unvarnished opinions about the ‘goods’ and ‘others’ of their specific model. The formal sessions were very useful too. We didn’t understand all of them (still learning the RV jargon), but took away a lot of most valuable information.
While attending Alumapalooza we came across an ad selling a one-year old Classic. The previous owner had put many upgrades into the trailer, including 1000 Amp-hours of Lithium batteries and all the toys to make that power plant work. It was being sold by Can-Am RV Centre in London Ontario whose owner, Andy Thomson, was at Alumapalooza, giving a talk on how to properly set up your car or truck for optimal towing. Long story short, after talking to Andy about the trailer, we left Ohio and 24 hours later were the proud owners of our own 2017 30 ft Airstream Classic! Almost exactly two years to the day after the first thought of an Airstream came into our heads!
Can-Am had some work to do on the trailer and in any case we were not ready to receive it at home, so we made arrangements to pick it up at the end of August. After making nearly every rookie mistake there is to be made (better left as the topic for another blog) we successfully (after 30 minutes) backed the Airstream into the driveway by the side of our house.
The winter of 2018 turned into 2019, Dave wrapped up his obligations to Penn State, and we headed back out to the 2019 version of Alumapalooza. After one of the wettest springs in Ohio in recent memory, the field where we all parked was more like a wetland, but we made it, and despite yet more rookie mistakes (another future blog), we had a great time reacquainting ourselves with our now-Airstream family. We also used the week as a dry run in practice for our upcoming 2019 deployment: a 4-month, 9600 mile counter-clockwise loop around the country.
That’s our Airstream story. We now try and camp four to six months out of any 12. Right now we are very happy to volunteer for Grand Teton National Park in the summertime. It’s an amazing experience to live in the park, work with the professional Rangers of the National Park Service, and help visitors stay safe and maximize their enjoyment in one of America’s most unique ecosystems. We are very fortunate indeed.
Bonus fun fact: I gave a TED talk in 2017. You can see it here…